BEECH BROOK evolved from the Protestant Orphan Asylum (initially called the Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum) established in 1852 by the MARTHA WASHINGTON AND DORCAS SOCIETY. The asylum, proposed by REBECCA ROUSE at a meeting in the FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, was created to care for children orphaned by a recent cholera epidemic. Because there was little public aid for the needy, private, faith-based institutions like ORPHANAGES took responsibility for their impoverished co-religionists. Most orphans had parents, often a mother, who could not support their offspring because of the death or desertion of a spouse, a debilitating illness, or inadequate employment. Orphanages supplied food, shelter, clothing, a modicum of education, and training in the institution’s faith tradition. Children might stay days, weeks, and sometimes years; parents were supposed to pay something for children’s upkeep but often could not.
The Protestant Orphan Asylum had support from prominent Clevelanders. The first chairman of its Board of Trustees was SHERLOCK J. ANDREWS (served 1853-69). With the help of charter member Eliza (Mrs. STILLMAN WITT), who paid the rent on the first facility on Erie (E. 9th) St., the asylum acquired enough money by 1855 to build a permanent residence at Willson (E. 55th St.) and Woodland Aves., its location for 23 years. In the 1870s LEONARD CASE donated the land and JEPTHA WADE, the money for a new building at 1460 (5000) St. Clair St. The asylum opened 17 Nov. 1880, to locate, feed, clothe, and educate homeless children of both sexes and all races and creeds, "sound of mind and body," and, if possible, to find homes for them. As did the larger Catholic and Jewish orphanages in the prosperous 1920s, the Protestant Orphan Asylum moved to the suburbs: to new quarters, at 3737 Lander Rd. in PEPPER PIKE in 1926. The old congregate facility was replaced by cottages on land donated by JEPTHA WADE II in 1916.
After 1935, as federal programs such as old age and unemployment insurance and Aid to Dependent Children enhanced parents’ financial stability, the orphanages’ historic role as caretakers of impoverished children was redefined. The Protestant Orphan Asylum became a place for "troubled youngsters from disrupted homes." In 1958, the institution became a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children. By the 1990s, with considerable public funding, the facility housed an average of 35 residents, ages 5-12, referred by medical professionals, schools, and the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. In 2016, Beech Brook closed its residential treatment program, but it continued to provide foster home placement and community-based counseling programs for children and parents.
Updated by Marian J. Morton
Morton, Marian J. "Homes for Poverty's Children: Cleveland Orphanages, l85l‑l933," Ohio History (Winter‑Spring l989).
______________, “Institutionalizing Inequalities: Black Children and Child Welfare in Cleveland, 1859-1998,” Journal of Social History (Fall 2000).
______________, "Surviving the Great Depression: Orphanages and Orphans in Cleveland," Journal of Urban History, Vol. 26, No. 4 ( May 2000).